APPLETON — Nagging cemetery maintenance issues were partly laid to rest by the Appleton Select Board at its Tuesday, Aug. 23, meeting but not without dipping into funds from a 112-year-old bequest that was once assailed by heirs of the deceased in state Supreme Court.

The bequests are contained in the 1910 will of Helen Rosina Wentworth, a member of a prominent, long-time Appleton family and a descendent of veterans of the American Revolution.

Wentworth was born in 1839, during the presidency of Martin Van Buren, a vice president under President Andrew Jackson.

Appleton’s Quaker Cemetery on Sennebec Road is the former site of the old Quaker Meeting House. Helen Wentworth’s grave marker is on the far left. Her brother, Charles’ on the far right. Photo by Jack Foley

When she died in 1916 at age 78 during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, her will left the town nearly $200,000, in today’s money, to help needy folks and maintain Appleton’s tiny, stone-wall-encircled Quaker Cemetery.

Wentworth is buried in the historic graveyard on Sennebec Road, as were eight relatives between 1843 and 1922.

Fifty more are interred in three other of the town’s nine graveyards; only one, Pine Grove, still accepts burials.

As recently as last year, fresh flowers were left on several of the Wentworth graves, according to online cemetery records.

Not among the aforementioned graves is that of Julia A. Bills. In 1917, with World War I raging in Europe, Bills and two other of Wentworth’s heirs asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to quash the will.

They challenged its validity and asked the court to declare it “void for uncertainty,” according to records of the proceedings.

Essentially, they claimed the will was so unclear in its intent as to be disallowed.

The case, Bills vs. Pease, was decided March 14, 1917. H.C. Pease was executor of the Wentworth estate.

Appleton and Rockland Savings Bank were co-defendants. The latter held the trust accounts.

J.H. Montgomery represented plaintiffs, Charles T. Smalley argued the defense.

In its unanimous decree, the court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments and declared the will not merely valid but also commendable.

Although not overtly on point with the Select Board’s current query — the court called accounting issues “immaterial in this discussion” — the case ended in a seemingly unambiguous affirmation of Wentworth’s desires.

It appears not to be have been questioned since — at least, maybe not until the Select Board’s Aug. 23 meeting.

Funds left to Appleton by Helen R. Wentworth in 1916 will be used to straighten badly leaning pillars at the entrance to the Quaker Cemetary on Sennebec Road. Photo by Jack Foley

With Chief Justice Albert Savage presiding, the high court’s opinion reads, in part, “The intention of the testatrix (Wentworth) is clear,” as it relates to the charity’s intended beneficiaries.

It calls the will a “…most needed and commendable form of public charity, and one that should be encouraged.”

The Wentworth family appeared in the Appleton area shortly after the American Revolution, when three brothers, all war veterans, settled here, according to Donovan Bowley of the Appleton Historical Society.

Born in 1838, Wentworth lost her father, Freedom, when she was five. Her mother, Hannah, remarried — then Wentworth’s stepfather died in a drowning accident when she was 17, Bowley said, quoting historical materials.

She was sometimes known around town as Rosina, he said.

Written six years before her death, Wentworth’s will set aside $200 and $6,000, respectively, to maintain the Quaker Cemetery and to buy and privately distribute heating fuel and other essentials during the winter to Appleton’s poor — but specifically not to gamblers or drunks.

At the time, the average American worker made about 25 cents per hour and earned a yearly income of between $200 and $500, according to online historical data sources — and eggs cost around 36 cents a dozen.

The initial trust amounts would be the equivalent of $6,237 and $187,121, respectively, or $193,359.07, in 2022 dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index (CPI).

The accounts’ balances now stand at about $6,000 and $44,408, town records show, up 290% and 640% since Wentworth’s death.

In fiscal year 2021-22, the charitable fund, called the C.F. Wentworth Memorial Fund, earned $1,375.86 in interest and spent the same, the town annual report shows. It’s mum on where the money went.

Several previous annual reports mention expenditures for “fuel assistance.”

In general, the will requires the principal in each fund remain untouched and only income and interest be spent. Unspent interest or income is to be added to the principal.

Board attention on Aug. 23 was drawn to the bequests and growing trust funds — with a current combined balance of about $50,000 — after board member Peter Beckett came across the will in his files, he said.

Appleton benefactor Helen R. Wentworth’s grave stone. When she died in 1916, she left the city the equivalent of nearly $200,000, in 2022 dollars, most to help the needy. Photo by Jack Foley

And while Beckett said the smaller trust — The Wentworth Cemetery Fund — was “pretty straight-forward” about how it’s to be managed, board Chair Lorie Costigan suggested that might not be true with the memorial fund.

Costigan was “hopeful” a legal reevaluation of that fund’s wording might provide more money for the needy. Her reasoning was something similar happened after a re-examination of the town’s Sumner fund, she said.

Part of what board members wrangled with centered on the charitable fund’s need to spend money in winter.

Questions seemed to focus on winter expenditures as they relate to accounting requirements, and whether something in that mix might suggest a new interpretation of the will that would free up more money to help those in need.

In an attempt to find out, Costigan made a motion to seek legal advise on the matter.

The motion was tabled, in part after Beckett voiced concerns about paying a lawyer when the document seemed plain enough.

“I think the language is pretty clear about what we can do,” he said.

No one mentioned the state Supreme Court’s 106-year-old scrutiny of the will; it’s unclear if they knew about it.

In any case, the discussion might not be over; the board decided to seek free, informal legal help on the issue.

All the talk, however, did result in relief for Wentworth’s final resting place, the Quaker Cemetery.

On a Costigan motion, the board voted to augment $800 from the Wentworth Cemetery Fund with $800 of town funds approved by voters for cemetery upkeep.

The $1,600 will allow repairs on two leaning, chain-bearing stone pillars along Sennebec Road at the cemetery entrance, in view of Wentworth family tombstones. Work on similarly slanted stone must wait, the board decided.

As per Wentworth’s will, the charitable fund was created and named “as a memorial to my late beloved brother C.F. Wentworth.”

Three years older than his sister, Charles Wentworth died in 1908 aged 74. They are buried in the same row, two graves apart, in a plot that will receive upkeep in perpetuity because of Helen Wentworth’s generosity.

That’s because, in addition to general graveyard maintenance, the cemetery fund is specifically for “…the care of the lot in the Friends Burying Ground where my Grandfathers and my fathers families are buried,” the will reads.

Now called the Quaker Cemetery, it’s also the former site of the town’s old Quaker Meeting House.

As for the memorial fund named for Wentworth’s brother, Charles, the will says its financial assistance must go to “such worthy and industrious persons…who may need some aid in addition to their own labor to enable them to sustain themselves during the inclement season of the year.”

Fuel and basic supplies are to be free or sold at low cost, according to the will, which also stipulates that help cannot go to those already on public assistance and that names of recipients must “be withheld from the public.”

Wentworth further required that no assistance go to any “idler, loafer, gambler or drunkard.”

When she died in 1954 at 80, Julia A. Bills, who contested the Wentworth will in 1917, was buried not in the family plot at Quaker Cemetery in Appleton, but 10 miles away in the Town of Hope — among about 30 other Wentworths.